The usual semicontinuous reading of Mark’s gospel during Ordinary Time in Year B is always put on hold at this point of the year while we listen to chapter 6 from John. John chooses not to repeat the recount of the Last Supper that we see in the other gospels. Instead, John the chapter 6 reflection on the Eucharist that begins with the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.
The connection of this event with Jesus’ teaching that he is the bread of life reminds us that the Eucharist is a meal. Like the miraculous feedings of the gospels, the Eucharist is for us food and drink given to us by God. It is both thanksgiving and nourishment for those who follow Christ. It shows us that there is no limit to God’s giving – we will all receive what we need, with plenty to spare.
Jesus also explains to the people, however, that the manna their ancestors ate, however, did not give eternal life. Eternal life is the gift offered to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Sharing in the Eucharist, therefore, is also to share in the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus ends the sacrifices of the Old Testament by offering the one new and eternal sacrifice of his own body and blood.
The design of our new altar seeks to reflect both the twofold nature of our Eucharistic celebration. The shape makes it recognisable as a table; a table which the entire community of the baptised are called to gather around to feast at the meal that leads us to the heavenly banquet. Its stone fabrication alludes to the sacrificial altars of the past, and communicates to us that the altar represents Christ himself, who sacrificed his own life for the redemption of all humankind.
The role of the sacristan, or of the group of volunteers who attend to the work of the sacristy, is an important ministry in any parish. These ministers not only assist the priest, but support the entire assembly to participate fully, consciously and actively in liturgical celebrations.
The most typical responsibility of sacristans is to prepare what is required for the celebration on Mass. In our parish, with Mass celebrated every day and five times on Sunday, a team of people take responsibility for different Masses.
So that everything is in place to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, sacristans will check to see that the Lectionary for Mass is open to the correct readings for the day and is left where the Minister of the Word can look over the texts before Mass. They ensure that the commentary and commentator’s lectern are ready on Sundays, as well as the Book of Gospels.
So that the Liturgy of the Eucharist can be celebrated, sacristans prepare the bread and wine and the sacred vessels such as chalices (cups) and patens (plates). The credence table at the side of the sanctuary is prepared with purificators (linen cloths for wiping the chalices), the corporal (white cloth the bread and wine are placed on for the Eucharistic Prayer) the water cruet, the lavabo bowl (for the priest to wash his hands) and towel.
The missal and other texts the priest needs to refer to need to be prepared for the day. Candles, incense and other requirements may also need to be prepared by the sacristan (servers may also assist).
As you can see, there is a lot of crucial “behind the scenes” work that sacristans do, even for the regular daily Mass.
Last year, we began to look at some of the things we do as a liturgical assembly when we gather together to celebrate the Mass.
It seems to go without saying that one of the things we would do, perhaps the thing that we do, is pray.
Our prayer in the Mass takes on particular forms, words and patterns that have been shaped over centuries. There are times where we are invited to pray collectively, each of us giving our voice to the communal prayer of the Church. There are times when the priest gives voice to our communal praise and thanksgiving; the Eucharistic Prayer being the best example.
There are other times when we call to mind our own prayers and intentions. Such times include the collect prayers of the Mass when the priest invites us: “Let us pray”. In the Prayer of the Faithful, after the intention is named by the minister, we take a moment to make own prayer, before we ask God to hear us. It is these personal prayers that we, the faithful, make that are “The Prayer of the Faithful”. Silence in the Mass is important for those moments of personal prayer and recollection.
Silence is also important for us to be open to God’s response to us. Prayer is not a one-way communication from us to God. It is a dialogue between the human and the divine. We are fortunate in our parish to be able to learn from the Carmelite example, where silence and contemplation are so highly valued as a means of allowing us to speak to God, and for God to speak to us.
We believe that God speaks to us, his people, particularly in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. The scriptures provide a rich treasury of God’s continuing dialogue with us. Not only did God speak to those people, at the time that the original texts were spoken or written, but God speaks to us still now. The messages that the scriptures contain still bear meaning and relevance for us today.
Dialogue requires not just speaking, but listening as well. We are called to listen during the celebration of the Eucharist, particularly when God speaks to us in the proclamation of the scriptures.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. We may hear someone speaking to us, but are we attentive to what is being said? Dictionary definitions of listen often refer to paying attention, to making some kind of effort when hearing something. True listening is an active rather than passive activity.
St Benedict encouraged people to “listen and attend with the ear of your heart”. This is a wonderful explanation of how we are called to listen in liturgical celebrations. It reminds us that the word of God doesn’t exist simply to teach us, but to transform us. Listening draws us into a deeper relationship with God, as reflected in Blessed John Henry (Cardinal) Newman’s motto, “Heart speaks to heart”.